Shortly after arriving on Capitol Hill last year, Illinois Congressman Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, told a story about how he and his new colleagues were told that for the first few weeks they might be asking themselves the question, "How did I get here?” At the time, he also said, they were told that after a few weeks the question they’d be asking themselves would likely change slightly, to “How did they get here?”
When reminded of that story, earlier this month, Bost laughed and said he has wondered to himself about how some of his colleagues got to Congress. “There are different personalities here. You’d like to say that you get along with everybody here and you work hard to do that, but there are people on each side of the aisle that have a unique personality that might not blend with myself."
Bost quickly added, “And there’re also those that probably, whenever they meet me, that have that (same) feeling.”
Bost spoke with St. Louis Public Radio as lawmakers were wrapping up their work ahead of the Christmas break. It’s clear that his move from the 118 member Illinois House of Representatives in Springfield to the 435 member U.S. House in Washington has introduced Bost to a wider array of personalities and political agendas - even among some in his own party. “Sometimes there are those that would rather shut-down government than govern, and that probably has bothered me more than anything,” Bost said.
While he says he plans to keep working with individuals who hold very different views of their positions in Congress, he wants to “make sure” that he’s doing what he believes the voters sent him to Washington to do. “The people sent us here to govern.”
He said members can always find a reason to vote “no” on any particular piece of legislation, (usually because they say a bill doesn’t go far enough or doesn’t do some particular thing they want) but he says the real challenge to governing is to work with the legislation and resources available at the time. He said to be effective, lawmakers must have long-term goals and stay focused on those goals, especially when a particular bill might not do everything they’d like. Bost said the long-term goals he stays focused on include improving the economy and making the U.S. a safer country.
Trade, budgeting and Senate rules
Bost said the most satisfying piece of legislation he’s worked on during his first year in Congress dealt with trade issues and included language to protect U.S. companies from “dumping” by foreign competitors. The practice usually involves foreign companies, with their government’s support, flooding the U.S. with massively discounted products, such as steel, to weaken U.S. manufacturers and gain an unfair advantage in the U.S. marketplace.
He said that while the recently passed $1.1 trillion omnibus spending plan may not have included everything he wanted, it did include important funding provisions for the military, along with several other provisions he backed. Bost supported lifting the decades old ban on exporting sweet crude oil, saying it will actually help the economy. He also points to a strategic benefit of lifting the export ban. “Right now when Russia puts pressure on Central Europe … (those countries are) having to face the oil prices that Russia is pushing on them. Shouldn’t we be in that controlling position?” he asked. Bost said, lifting the export ban will strengthen the U.S. hand in the world’s oil markets.
In January, Republicans in both the House and Senate talked about returning to a “normal budgeting process” in funding the federal government. But Democrats were able to take advantage of Senate rules to stymie those efforts and block the 12 separate appropriations bills from being considered by the full Senate. Senate Democrats wanted to force Republicans to negotiate an end to spending caps in the Sequester. In the end, congressional leaders and the White House agreed on a budget plan that increased spending for both the military and social programs in executive branch agencies.
House Republicans, working under more favorable rules for the majority, were able to advance their appropriations bill. The House also sent hundreds of bills to the Senate only to see the vast majority of them languish in committee.
Bost is among many House Republicans who would like to see the Senate change its rule requiring 60 votes to overcome such procedural obstacles. He also said he believes Congress will return to a normal budget process next year, in part, because of what Bost said are commitments Speaker Paul Ryan has reportedly received from the Senate.
Senate leadership is reviewing the rules to see whether they might be able to move more bills to the president’s desk. One idea, voiced by Republicans in both chambers, would be to change the rules as they pertain to just the 12 appropriation’s bills. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is one of the senators reviewing those rules. He has said that any rule change would have to be done in accordance with current rules and would not take place prior to the next Congress.